A groundswell of support from the Yukon New Democratic Party surged beneath leader Todd Hardy Saturday as he spoke at the party’s annual convention.
Hardy was interrupted several times during his opening address with sustained applause as he explained recent decisions and his vision for the NDP.
“Contrary to what some people are saying, this is a party on the grow,” Hardy told 57 delegates at the Kwanlin Dun First Nation potlatch house in Whitehorse.
“The party is stronger now, with more members than before.”
Despite recent setbacks, polls still predict the NDP winning the next election, said Hardy.
“What does that say?”
Hardy expelled MLAs Gary McRobb and Eric Fairclough in February.
That dropped the Official Opposition from five members to three.
The audience sat in rapt silence as Hardy explained that decision.
“Two members were secretly meeting with the Liberal leader, discussing how they could cross the floor and join the Liberals, and they had been doing this for two months,” he said.
“Meanwhile, caucus was meeting on a basis of trust, sharing ideas and personal stuff with each other — plans for the future of this party, stuff in the legislative assembly, our negotiations, our plans of what to talk about.
“And, on top of that, platform development.”
The door is still open for Fairclough to return, because he currently sits as an independent and has not canceled his party membership, Hardy added.
He did not make a similar offer to McRobb, who has joined the Liberals.
Nevertheless, the NDP is poised to win the next territorial election — which must be called by November 4 — because the NDP is setting the territory’s political agenda, said Hardy.
He offered the Yukon Party government’s new safer communities legislation to back that claim.
“That is an NDP motion, originally. That was brought forward when the government didn’t even have it on their radar.
“Where did that come from? That came from the drug and alcohol strategy summit that was created.
“That came because of NDP initiative. It came from forms that we had, it came from motions, it came from private member bills.
“The government had to respond to our agenda.”
Hardy finished his address to a standing ovation.
The NDP constitution dictates that any member can call for a leadership review.
No one has, according to the party executive.
“Todd has grown immensely, in terms of political skills and leadership skills,” said veteran NDP member Max Fraser, who did not back Hardy during the 2002 NDP leadership race.
Fraser’s past differences with Hardy were over “style, not substance,” he said.
“People blossom when they get into leadership rolls,” said Fraser.
“That’s what has happened in Todd’s case.”
McRobb recently criticized Hardy for being “anti-mining” and unpopular in rural Yukon.
Not so, said Jorn Meier, NDP candidate for Klondike in the impending election.
“In my opinion, that’s wrong. I think Todd has support in Dawson and I know I have tremendous support,” said Meier, who is the first Yukoner to officially announce a candidacy.
“Once he gets a chance to talk face-to-face with miners, they will see that the differences between the NDP and the mining community are mostly hearsay and propaganda from some other parties.”
Hardy visited Dawson, Mayo and Pelly last week.
Other NDP members will announce their candidacy in May, he said.
The Yukon’s other two political parties typically wait for the NDP to do the hard work of platform development, said Hardy.
“It’s not done in a back room with five or six people drawing it up, which is what the other parties do.”
The Yukon Party and the Yukon Liberal Party both held policy meetings in March.
Fifty-five delegates turned up at the Yukon Party meeting. The Liberals had 47 delegates.
Membership for all parties tends to swell in an election year.
There are currently 370 NDP members, up from 131 in April 2005.
The NDP delegates spent several hours honing policy resolutions, from child care to forestry to waste management, with open microphones available for the “brothers and sisters” to speak.
According to documents provided, the NDP had almost $12,000 in assets as of December 31, 2005.
Party coffers saw more than $35,000 in revenue in 2005, up from $21,000 in 2004, thanks in large part to a $10,000 donation from “labour organizations.”
“The NDP and labour share goals and principles,” said Yukon Federation of Labour president Alex Furlong.
“I will not advise my membership how to vote, but there is only one option that I can see, and it is not the current government and it is not a Liberal government, which would endorse public-private partnerships.”
Kwanlin Dun chief Mike Smith accepted an NDP invitation to address the membership.
“It’s not often that we get the opportunity to address any party,” said Smith, who welcomed the NDP to Kwanlin Dun territory but did not attend the convention.
Smith is concerned that Premier Dennis Fentie wants to form a commission to guide construction of the proposed Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline that will involve leaders from government and industry but will leave First Nations out.
“I’m afraid that we really have to pay attention to what the premier is doing,” he said.
“All of us, either NDP or Liberal or Yukon Party, have to be concerned.”
Veteran NDP MP Libby Davies, from Vancouver East, gave an address at the convention banquet.
Former federal NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin did not attend the convention, but the party made about $500 auctioning off memorabilia from McLaughlin’s past campaigns.